How Much Do Cold Temperatures Affect an Electric Vehicle’s Driving Range?

The cold, hard truth about winter’s effects on EV batteries

Tesla, an EV driving in the winter Photo: Adobe Stock

With a proliferation of choices covering electric vehicle styles and driving range, more Americans are considering purchasing an EV. One of the common hesitations, aside from range anxiety in general, is how an electric car will perform in extreme temperatures. But should this concern prevent a potential buyer from making the leap to an EV?

The main reasons driving range goes down in cold weather are the impact on battery chemistry when parked and the drain in order to maintain battery temperature and supply cabin heat. Cold temperatures can reduce an unplugged EV’s range by about 20 percent, according to testing by the Norwegian Automobile Federation, and recharging takes longer than in warm weather. 

Running the cabin heater, seat heaters, defroster, and other accessories that combat the cold weather inside the car all sap range. For cold temperatures, what we have found is that 20° F and colder is when the range really drops. (Learn how to get the most out of your car’s heater.)

We’ve done some testing on how the cold weather affects range, and one of the biggest takeaways is that you need to consider how many miles you drive in a typical day and double that number to determine the driving range that’s right for your needs. The good news is that many electric cars are getting 200-plus miles of battery range, and that number is generally improving from model year to model year. (Where this is a greater concern is with an older EV that might have lost some range over time.)

A key reason to choose added range is not only the energy demands but also the unpredictability of weather. You don’t want the stress of being caught in a winter storm not knowing how long the drive will take. 

To reduce the impact of cold, park the car in a garage where it can remain on a charger. “It takes less energy to maintain a temperature than to raise it, so this can make a significant difference in range,” says Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at the automotive research and consulting firm Navigant.

If you think the climate where you live might be too harsh for an EV, consider a plug-in hybrid. You’ll have the advantage of electric power around town and for short commutes but still have the safety net of an internal combustion engine for longer trips and extreme temperatures.